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All-Ireland Championship: Donegal display such a letdown

By John Campbell

There were three losers in the one game at Croke Park last Sunday — Donegal, Ulster and gaelic football.

In terms of eminently forgettable matches, the numbingly sterile clash between Jim McGuinness’s side and a markedly limited Dublin outfit must surely now be top of the heap.

When Donegal opened their Ulster championship campaign against Antrim in Ballybofey, the depressing fare on offer on that occasion was attributed to ring-rustiness, the driving wind and heavy rainfall and an understandable fear on the part of both teams of falling at the first hurdle.

But in bringing the curtain down against the Dubs on their occasionally colourful but often controversial championship journey, Donegal’s dependence on the equivalent of the Berlin Wall and a liberal dose of cynicism for survival effectively robbed the contest of any degree of allure.

Sandwiched between their ignominious first and last championship outings Donegal had hurdled a Cavan side that laboured through Division Three in the league, bushwhacked Tyrone with two late killer goals, lacerated Derry’s Ulster title ambitions courtesy of some doubtful refereeing and plunged a knife into Kildare’s back in the dying moments of extra-time in a gripping All-Ireland quarter-final.

On Sunday, though, Donegal let themselves down badly.

Sure, they frustrated Dublin and yes, they had looked comfortable when they led by 0-5 to |0-2 with the second half still in its infancy.

However, they did not score from play afterwards and what’s more they never looked like doing so.

They were not so much focused on defence as consumed by it to such an extent that master craftsman skipper Michael Murphy, one of the best finishers in the country, was deployed as a labourer somewhere in the region of the threequarter line.

Donegal were indeed fortunate that Dublin for the most part lacked vision, flair and invention, their anaemic route one policy actually playing right into the hands of the Ulster champions.

Only when the muscular Kevin McMenamon was sprung from the bench and Bernard Brogan somehow managed to sustain his one-man battle for possession up front did Dublin edge clear — and that was after they were reduced to 14 men when Diarmuid Connolly was red-carded.

Donegal’s inhibitions, fixation with lateral hand-passing and unwillingness to show a flair for adventure meant that the game floundered.

When Armagh and Tyrone were winning All-Ireland titles not so long ago, they were criticised for their defensive tactics but at least they gave expression to their attacking qualities as well.

Sadly, on Sunday flair and sparkle were conspicuous by their absence.

As Ulster champions Donegal did not do themselves or their province proud.

And as a consequence the image of gaelic football took a below-the-belt blow from which it might encounter difficulty recovering.

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